5. Unless it can be proven to me—to
me as I am now, today, with my heart and my beard, and my putrefaction—that,
in the infinite run it does not matter a jot that a North American
girl child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood
by a maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it can, life is a
joke) I see nothing for the treatment of my misery but the melancholy
and very local palliative of articulate art.
In this sentence, located at the end
of Chapter 31, Part Two, Humbert clearly notes the tragedy of Lolita’s
destroyed childhood. Until now, Humbert has been selfishly unconcerned
with anything but keeping Lolita. He has also been blind to her
as a person. Though he has provided the reader with many clues to
her personality, he himself can see her as anything other than the
object of his desire. Initially, he had some reservations about
taking away Lolita’s “purity.” However, he overcomes these reservations,
as he does in all instances where morality conflicts with his desires.
However, Humbert does not clarify whether the “maniac” in the quote
is himself or Quilty, suggesting the existence of a deeper layer
of self-doubt and self-loathing. Though he does frequently allude
to the fact that he was an inadequate and failed father, Humbert
nonetheless points to Quilty as the real destroyer of Lolita’s innocence.
Even in the face of self-awareness, Humbert does not take full responsibility
for his actions.
Nabokov also uses this sentence to make his point that
art can triumph over the petty and lurid events of life. Humbert
realizes that only art can alleviate his misery, and he tries to
assuage his pain by writing this very story. In this way, Humbert
can tell his tale and defend himself, as well as immortalize his
Lolita in a work of art. Art becomes therapeutic for Humbert in
a way that his many trips to the sanitariums never managed to be.
Humbert also alludes to his artistic intentions when he defends
his murder of Quilty, asserting that one must choose Humbert over
Quilty so that he can tell the story and capture Lolita forever
as a nymphet. Ironically, even the casual reader knows that while
Quilty is recognized in the novel as a playwright and even as a
“genius,” he lacks the depth of feeling to truly create a work of
art and love. Quilty’s feelings for Lolita are far more sexual than
emotional, and Humbert makes sure to portray his own feelings as
more emotional than sexual.